Samsung Galaxy K Zoom

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Here’s another hybrid phone-camera from Samsung, but is it answering a question nobody has asked? And is it ‘slim and chic’ as the manufacturer claims?

Most contemporary high-end smartphones have solid cameras. Flagship handsets such as the Sony Xperia Z2, LG G3 and Nokia Lumia 930 all have powerful snappers with decent image editing features. All of them, however, have limited zoom functions. And none will match up to a compact digital camera.

Samsung aims to bridge that gap with the Galaxy K Zoom, a phone-camera hybrid that sports 20.7-megapixels and a 10x optical zoom. A phone that emulates a camera, right down to its bulky design, is surely suffering an identity crisis. Samsung thinks otherwise, and has branded the K Zoom a “slim and chic” handset. It’s not.

Design
From an aesthetic perspective, the Galaxy K Zoom is first and foremost a camera. Its bulk and protruding bump on the back, which houses the lens, makes it virtually impractical to fit it into your pocket.

Recent discussions in the online tech community have questioned whether the increasing size of phones might lead to clothes designers making larger pockets – especially in light of the 5.5-inch iPhone 6. A Galaxy K Zoom user would require very deep pockets indeed.

The depth of this phone-camera hybrid is 16.6mm. By comparison, the Galaxy S5 is less than half the depth at 8.1mm – and that’s not even the slimmest phone on the market.

In fact, the lens on the back gives the device a similar bulge as seen on the Nokia Lumia 1020, which houses a superb 41-megapixel camera.

While the back of the K Zoom may at first glance resemble the dimpled style of the Galaxy S5, a closer look reveals otherwise. Firstly, the K Zoom has a curved back, most likely for housing the lens.

The plastic rear also has a different feel to the Galaxy S5, which had a matte look with textured dimples. Running your hand over the back of the K Zoom feels cheap and plasticky, with no texture at all. That’s where it differs from digital cameras, too, which tend to come with all-metal exteriors.

If you were unimpressed by the Galaxy S5’s design, then the K Zoom will likely disappoint.

Performance
When you’re not using your K Zoom to snap detailed images, chances are you’ll want to use it for general smartphone tasks. So how does it perform as a standard handset at everyday jobs such as app use, web browsing, gaming and video playback?

You can rest assured that the K Zoom handles most tasks well, but it never goes the extra mile. This is a mid-range phone – it’s only the premium camera that puts it in the higher price bracket.

We assume the apps that K Zoom users might use most are video and photography ones such as Instagram and Vine, so we tested both to see how quickly you can upload content using the phone.

Uploading online is one advantage of having a powerful phone-camera, as it cuts out the long-winded task of transferring digital images to your computer before transferring them to the web.

We found images uploaded to Instagram instantly. There was hardly any wait, as you might expect on other devices. Even high-end smartphones tend to take a few seconds, at least, to load images.

The same went for Vine, with videos uploading quickly over WiFi. With fast 4G LTE capability, you needn’t worry about slow loading times on the go either.
In terms of gaming, we tested two powerful titles on the K Zoom and found both performed relatively well.

Zombie shooter Dead Trigger 2 suffered from minor frame rate issues during its extended cut scenes, but the gameplay was generally smooth, even during lengthy action scenes. The same went for Virtua Tennis Challenge; the mobile spin-off of the successful tennis sim looked decent and ran smoothly despite its fast pace.

Better displays on the market offer sharper resolutions – the Galaxy S5’s 1,920 x 1,080-pixel resolution included. As such, on the K Zoom, you will not be able to watch YouTube’s maximum 1,080p HD resolution. Still, 720p videos look good.

We viewed a trailer for the upcoming epic blockbuster Exodus: Gods and Kings, and found that it looked sharp and detailed –  a must for effects-heavy clips.
If you are obsessed with resolution and pixel-per-inch counts, then keep in mind that there are better displays to be found elsewhere.

Features
By far the standout function on the K Zoom is, as its name attests, its zoom lens. Hold down the camera button on the side and you are immediately led to the camera function. The lens quickly pops out and you are ready to extend or retract, using the volume controls, to fit your image requirements.

While other smartphone cameras make it difficult to capture an image when using the maximum zoom – an extreme close-up can be ruined by the slightest movement when taking a pic – that isn’t the case for the K Zoom. It makes it incredibly easy to capture far-away objects and people with its 10x zoom.

You can shoot images and videos quickly from the camera menu by selecting either
icon. This makes for a refreshing change from other devices, which pause to switch between functions.

You can set the video to the highest quality possible – 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, 60 frames per second – via the settings icon in the menu.

The exhaustive camera functions encompass 27 modes in total. Some of these sound like gimmicks (a “fireworks” mode?), whereas others such as HDR make sense.

The K Zoom also comes packed with built-in apps and widgets to enhance your photos. The Camera Studio widget provides a handy collection of tools, apps and purchasable features for photography enthusiasts. To access it, swipe to the left from the centre of the screen.

Here you will find your image and video gallery and the Studio image editing app. The Studio app lets you enhance and edit your saved images by changing the brightness and saturation settings, crudely draw on the images (in the vein of Snapchat), and add filters and playful decorations such as stickers and frames.

It’s like having the editing features of Snapchat and Instagram in one convenient place. Whether you will use it instead of those apps is debatable, but its a nice addition.

The Pro-Suggest tool, meanwhile, is a camera shortcut that allows you to add filters to images before you even take them. So you can experiment with the kind of tone you’re aiming for – the intensity of filters can be changed by using touch controls – before snapping.

Verdict

We can see what Samsung set out to achieve with the Galaxy K Zoom, and creating a solid Android smartphone with an optical zoom is no small feat. The K Zoom, however, looks like a dated digital camera at best – newer devices are much more compact. If you’re after a smartphone with a solid snapper, we’d advise you to seek out the LG G3 or Sony Xperia Z2 instead.

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